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What happens to your body when you overeat?

Tis’ the season for stuffing our faces with fruitcake and “figgy pudding.” But eating too much in one sitting can be bad for your health, says Courtney Kalamar, a licensed and registered dietitian at Piedmont Henry Hospital.

“Anytime you ingest more than your body needs at any one time, the excess calories consumed (whether they be fat, carbs, or protein) are converted to, and stored as, fat,” says Kalamar. “Frequent overconsumption will lead to weight gain.”

Why do people overeat?

The holidays can be a tricky time, and there are a number of reasons that drive people to overeat, says Kalamar.

  • People are often presented with an abundance of food at holiday parties or family functions, so they have frequent opportunities to indulge.
  • People may also be served multiple courses at holiday functions, as opposed to the one or two courses eaten during a traditional meal.
  •  Because some holiday foods are served only once a year, many people tend to increase their portion sizes.
  • The holidays bring out all kinds of emotions, which drives some people to eat for comfort or out of boredom.

How much can you eat in one sitting?

“The exact amount varies person to person,” says Kalamar. “But the average adult stomach can hold about one liter of food (about 4 cups). Since the stomach is highly elastic it is capable of holding as much as 3 to 4 liters (a little over 1 gallon, or 16 cups) at one time.”

Overeating can lead to feelings of excessive fullness, bloating, reflux, indigestion and nausea.   

“It takes your brain 20 minutes to register satiety and fullness,” explains Kalamar.  “For some, by the time their brain registers that they are full, they have already eaten well beyond the amount needed to feel satisfied and instead feel stuffed.”

Tips to prevent overeating

If you are planning to attend a holiday party, what should you do? Kalamar offers the following tips:

  • Use smaller plates to avoid loading up during meals.
  • Take half of the portion size you had originally intended on taking and wait at least 20 minutes before returning for seconds or thirds.
  • Limit appetizers, and save room for the main courses.
  • Stay away from the rooms/tables with the food on it. If it’s in sight you’re more likely to eat it.
  • Assess your hunger before eating.  Make sure you’re actually hungry instead of being bored or tired.

For more helpful, healthful tips, click here

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